From the halls of Foxboro Stadium…

A Question For The Revolution: Can You Manage?

Posted by tonybiscaia on December 27, 2012

A View From The Fort By Jim Dow

As hordes of local college students took final exams and packed their bags for the holiday break a most distinguished visitor slipped into town to participate in a late semester seminar at Harvard’s Business School. Earlier this year Sir Alex Ferguson had agreed to be the subject of a case study for an MBA class taught by Professor Anita Elberse and Tom Dye and after onsite visits at Old Trafford and the Carrington training HQ, the former trade union shop steward jetted to capitalism’s own theater of dreams to impart his managerial ideas up close and personally.

By all accounts the presentation was a rousing success but did noted B-School alums Robert (MBA 1965) and Jonathan (MBA 1990) Kraft expend some of their post-graduate clout to secure a seat in the back of the classroom for Jay Heaps, the manager of their own football team?

Had the now second-year gaffer been in attendance he might have heard some wise words on how the impetuosity of competitive youth has now mellowed into more inclusive management methods that allow for dealing with fragile egos, senses of entitlement and narcissistic attitudes, i.e. modern big-time footballers.

Or, as Ferguson himself has said, “…you have to accept that there is a certain flaw that is counterbalanced by all the great things (the player) can do.”

Or, from Professor Elberse, “He is adamant that a manager should never lose control. There’s a telling quote in the case (study) in that regard: “You can’t ever lose control…if anyone steps out of my control, that’s them dead.”

She then continues, “It may seem harsh to state it like this, but I think his clarity on this matter is what earns him the respect from his players, from the biggest stars to the up-and-coming young ones. They know he will not waver from doing what he feels is best for the team and the club.”

Or, as Howard Wilkerson, a gaffer and Ferguson rival, once observed, “You manage each person differently. When you think you have the chance of making it work, you continue. If you think a situation is beyond redemption, then, of course, you don’t.”

Thinking about these various pearls in relation to the trading of Shalrie Joseph and Benny Feilhaber one has to wonder if the clear decline of the former and the apparent attitude of the latter had been appraised and acted on by Sir Alex what the outcomes might have been.

Given the way in which United sends players packing at the slightest hint of any erosion of ability or commitment, it is likely that Big Dread would have been gone considerably earlier than the middle of last season. On the other hand, would a flying football boot followed by a quiet word directed at a pouting but talented midfielder have achieved an attitude adjustment of Beckham-like proportions with an LA-raised, somewhat self-absorbed Brazilian?

Ferguson himself has spoken of having to adjust his thinking relative to different cultures and temperaments as the English league became multi-national, citing the eating habits of his Brazilian players who tend to dine late and sleep in and how he has had to dovetail the timing of the pregame meals and team talks for maximum efficiency. Having gotten the best from personalities as different as Cantona and Cristiano Ronaldo one suspects he would have sussed out Benny and quite possibly deployed him usefully in terms of the team.

Ferguson was younger (32) than Heaps (35) when he took on his first managerial appointment at East Stirlingshire in 1974, quickly moving to Saint Mirren before taking over at Aberdeen in 1978 where he won the European Cup in 1983. He went on to ManU in 1986 after turning down offers from Arsenal, Rangers and Spurs, but along the way he experienced losing seasons, difficult times and even got fired. He was, to quote one of his players from that time, ”a frightening bastard from the start,” which twins with an old football chestnut that, “there’s one attribute widely perceived as being common to all great managers: the capacity to be a total and utter bastard (Robert Chalmers, GQ, 5/2011).”

While Ferguson has kept his hard demeanor he also learned from every experience as he moved up from the low divisions of the Scottish professional game to the top flight, then to Europe and the national team and finally to England and the biggest club of all. He was considered a risky hire at United and it took seven seasons for him to win a league title. There were moments when he was close to the sack and serenaded by the pre-prawn eating Stretford End, “…years of excuses and it’s still crap…ta-ra Fergie.”

And when success did come there was no question that he had paid his dues.

It would be hard to measure who was the more competitive on the pitch but an imagined penalty area tussle between the Scottish striker from down the Govan shipyards and the history major defender and hoopster from Duke would have likely been combative and might well have ended in cards of various colors.

But if the two had ever stopped banging heads and started a conversation, Ferguson’s shipyard socialism and Heaps’ sense of history might have made for exchanges far more interesting than anything talk radio currently provides. And, to return to the present although still in the realm of fantasy, the still relevant septuagenarian might indicate to his eager counterpart half his age that he needs a combination of seasoning and support to succeed in the game, possibly telling Jaybird what he told GQ in 2008, “I would say (you need) luck, especially in the first two years. Because you have to get over that doubting phase, when people are saying: ‘Who the hell is this that’s come in?”

With the end of the season and the subsequent roster subtractions, additions and speculations an interesting exercise by the yuletide fire with wassail in hand has been to contemplate the value and ability of the current Revolution side when measured up against the best MLS players of 2012, courtesy of Soccer America.

I went to the October version of the MLS Player’s Association salary listing and awarded each player their guaranteed salary. In the case of Kalifa Cisse I gave him a pay packet of $200,000. Then I went to to ascertain transfer values. This is a website run by a small group of German footy nerds who assign worth based on a potpourri of hard news, rumor and speculation, but it is as good a basic source as one can find albeit as subjective as Soccer America, specifically Ridge Mahoney.

The calculations were made with three caveats; first that the field positions assigned by Soccer America are somewhat arbitrary, second that publication listed twelve positions, not eleven and third that LA’s Robbie Keane, who finished first as striker had a salary of $3,417,242 and a transfer value of $6,400,000 which completely threw off any sort of parity. In defense of the decision to eliminate the MVP of the Cup Final, he was the only big bucks DP to be named as the best positional player, Henry and Donovan finishing third and fifth as forwards and Rafa Marquez not registering at all. Danny Koevermans of Toronto was the only other million-dollar baby to register in the SA charts as being above mediocre. I also removed the Holding Midfielder position, which SA gave to Osvaldo Alonso of Seattle with a salary of $185,000 and a transfer value of $1,120,000.

Reading from left to right you have the position, the player, their salary and their transfer value in parenthesis; The Revvies are on the left, the All-Stars on the right

Possible 2013 Revs Lineup Soccer America 2012 Best XI

Striker – Saer Sene – $148,843 ($440,000) Eddie Johnson (#2 behind Keane) – $106,000
($1 million)
Forward – Jerry Bengston – $350,000 ($480,000) Chris Wondolowski $300,000 ($2.9 million)
LMF – Lee Nguyen – $55,000 ($720,000) Chris Pontius $166,250 ($480,000)
AMF – Juan Toja – $200,000 ($2 million) Graham Zusi $138,812 ($720,000)
CMF – Kalifa Cisse – $200,000? ($720,000) Juninho – $65,625 ($400,000)
RMF – Kelyn Rowe – $156,00 ($200,000) Eddie Gaven – $195,000 ($560,000)
RB – Kevin Alston – $169,000 ($280,000) Sean Franklin – $228,333 ($480,000)
CB – A.J. Soares – $116,450 ($240,000 ) Matt Besler $103,000 ($560,000)
Stephen McCarthy – $82,950 ($240,000) Victor Bernardez – $100,000 ($1.4 million)
LB – Chris Tierney – $74,792 ($200,000) Heath Pearce – $303,000 ($560,000)
GK – Matt Reis – $159,667 ($440,000) Jimmy Nielsen – $220,000 ($720,000)
Total salaries – $1,712,702 Total salaries – $1,926,020
Avg. – $155,700 per player Avg. – $175,093 per player
Total Transfer Value – $6,040,000 Total Transfer Value – $9,800,000
Avg. – $549,090 per player Avg. – $890,909 per player

By way of perspective, the average League One salary is $130,000, in the Championship $400,000 and the Premier League said to be almost $1,900,000. So MLS salaries, both for the Revs and the ‘all-stars” would be closest to the third tier of the professional game in England. On the other hand, there are no huge TV contracts in the U.S. for soccer and, Galaxy and Red Bull aside, no ownership that spends 114% of its’ income (Manchester City) on player salaries, plus transfer fees. According to the Telegraph newspaper in the 2010/11-season the top Premiership clubs spent $4 billion, $457 million more (12%) than they took in.

Of the ten teams that made the playoffs in 2012 only L.A. (Beckham@ $4 million, Donovan@ $2.4 million and Keane@ $3.4 million) and Red Bull (Cahill@ $3.6 million, Henry@ $5.6 million and Marquez@ $4.6 million) had million dollar stars. L.A. did win MLS Cup but six non-million dollar player teams, plus New York, finished ahead of them in the Supporters Shield race for the best overall team.

Dallas (Julian DeGuzman@ $1.9 million), Montreal (Di Valo@ $1.9 million), Portland (Boyd@ $1.5 million), Toronto (Frings@ $2.4 million and Koevermans@ $1.5 million) and Vancouver (Miller@ $1.2 million) all finished out of the playoffs. New England, with no million dollar players, finished ahead of Portland and Toronto and only eight points behind Vancouver, seven behind Montreal and four behind Dallas.

Of course there are a great many MLS players in the mid-hundreds of thousands in salaries but having paid Benny Feilhaber ($446,000) and Shalrie Joseph ($554,000) in that bracket, plus Bengston ($350,000), Toja ($200,000) and likely Cisse the same, New England’s wages aren’t much out of line with the league in general, including some of the most successful clubs.

At the same time, of the twelve positions listed by Soccer America only Kelyn Rowe (#8 for right midfielders), Lee Nguyen (#8 for left midfielders) and Saer Sene (#6 for strikers) cracked the upper half listings. Rowe also received Honorable Mention as Rookie of the Year for 2012. Everyone else was rated below #10, i.e. mediocre at best.

With Bengston, Scott Caldwell, Cisse, Andy Dorman, Diego Fagundez, Toja, plus the possible additions of José Gonçalves and Walter Martinez (if signed) all having considerable potential to improve the team, salaries aren’t necessarily the issue with the Revs. They may not supply other amenities (translators, cars, housing, etc.), we don’t know, but their pay packet for the average player is about average. In the case of Nguyen they certainly will have to offer a significant raise but the real issue is they need to develop these players and others, which comes down at the end of the day, to assessing talent, pursuing signatures and then coaching them up to the top of the league.

If you go back to Sir Alex Ferguson, this is what managers and management do, the question is can the New England Revolution manage to manage in 2013?

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